Monthly Archives: June 2011

Tastes like a Brandywine, produces like a Better Boy. I’m telling you.

I’ve read a couple of Ms. Bowen’s columns in the Siskiyou Daily News, mostly for her emphatic position supporting the farmers in the Scott and Shasta Valleys. I am quite taken by her recurring closing paragraph on her garden. Would you guys be up for something like that? ‘Cause I can do that. I finally got my summer garden mulched. I like a hefty layer of straw, more or less a flake thick. Had to build new tomato cages this year. Went with steel welded mesh panels for concrete reinforcement. Bit of overkill, but I’m grateful for the height and seismic reinforcement. One can’t have too much ductility, says I. Put in mostly Brandy Boys, then some other frou-frou heirlooms. I can never be bothered to remember which ones.

I’m not afraid to say shocking things here, so here goes. I am done with cherry tomatoes. That’s right. Done. They’re just not worth the picking effort. Even Sungolds. Even Sweet 100’s. Yellow Pears are bland and pointless, always have been. Much as I love Sungolds, I am bored picking them. NO MORE. When there are children around, I understand growing a sacrificial moat of cherry tomatoes around the perimeter of the garden. But this year I’m not growing any. We can do a post-season analysis in October to evaluate this radical choice. I’ll admit my mistake, if that’s what it turns out to be.

The other thing that caught my eye in Ms. Bowen’s piece was this:

Fees to go up 700-fold
Another vital discussion for the POW agenda is the enormous increase in the watermaster service fee. At our POW board meeting last week, we voted to fight this illegal demand that will increase the fee for the simple service by seven times. This gigantic jump will affect the bottom line for our local ranchers, who, in most cases are just getting by. The problem is that the fee has been placed on property taxes and is now considered a tax. So while we figure out how to get out of watermaster service or find an alternative, the fee will go on property taxes starting July 1. If the fee isn’t paid, the county can add a fine and a lien will be placed on your property. …

… The fee is based on the amount of water one receives and John receives a significant amount of legally adjudicated water. His fee cost has been $1,430 and will increase to $8,400 a year – beginning this coming Friday. Lots of notice time!

…John and several neighbors will be petitioning the court to be released from watermaster service, but that will take time. Those who are not affected by this huge service fee increase may wonder why POW is taking such a strong stand against it. The reason: Once government agencies believe they can push the public around and will pay their wasteful budgets, this type of fee increase will escalate. Our government is too big. Taxes, fees and fines from increased regulations and laws are destroying the economy and our society. We must say “no more.”

Several aspects of this interest me. First, that she created a backstory to tie the fee into her perceived larger agenda. The watermaster fee to the growers in the Scott and Shasta didn’t come about because a government agency wants to grind the public under its heel. The fee reassignment was part of the governor’s May budget cuts. The state can’t raise revenues to continue paying for the watermaster service, as it has done for years, so as part of Governor Brown’s strategy of centrifuging costs out to locals, he sent that cost out to Scott and Shasta. The reason isn’t philosophical. It is only that a county still has the mechanism to collect taxes to support services and the state doesn’t so long as Republicans vote as a tax-denying bloc. You see the strategy elsewhere in the new budget. The Water Board isn’t paying for water rights and water quality enforcement. That is now paid for by rightholders and polluters. Fifty million dollars of firefighting will no longer be supported by the general fund. It’ll come from a home assessment on people living in high fire areas. The state cannot raise taxes, but watermaster service, pollution monitoring and enforcement, and firefighting still have to happen. So now these costs are borne by the direct recipients as fees.

This wasn’t done out for philosophical reasons about matching users to costs and making people internalize the costs of their way of life. It isn’t related to the new state emphasis on regional water management. It is a side effect of the state-level budget process. If our budget process weren’t so fucked, we’d likely keep subsidizing farmers and people who live in fire’s way, just as we have for decades. Nevertheless, differing taxation mechanisms at the state and county level are forcing this approach. Now that it is here, this differentiating taxation burdens by specific function (watermaster, firefighting, TMDL monitoring), do we like it? It is squarely in line with the “user pays” principle (or “stressor pays”). Those are proposed as ways to finance the Delta Plan.

Growers in the Scott and Shasta don’t seem to like internalizing their costs. Bleeding heart that I am, I kinda don’t like it either. I like to be part of a collective state and don’t want to fuss about making sure that everyone pays exactly what is owed. I’m more of a “split the bill evenly and it’ll work out over time” than a “figure out how many drinks each person ordered and who only got salad” person. Economists would counter about freeriders and tell me one more time that tying costs to uses more precisely would decrease economically inefficient behavior. Parceling costs and taxes out to distinct user categories is more in line with the Information Age and the ability to track lots of information more closely, so maybe it is a reflection of modernity.

My mind isn’t made up on this, dear reader. I am sure you will inform me in the comments. Good way for the state to pay its way and signal to taxpayers, or another step towards the dissolution of collective statehood into self-interested tribes? Cherry tomatoes or no?

LATER: Some editing for clarity. Apologies for posting that rough draft and rushing out the door.

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That’s some nerve.

This case by, brought by the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau against the Dept. of Fish and Game, is the most outrageous thing I’ve read in quite a while.

If you remember, farmers in the Scott and Shasta Valleys are a bunch of old school growers who all but dewater the rivers in the summer as they send water to their pastures (sometimes they do dewater whole stretches, below their “push-up dams”). Sadly for them, the Scott and Shasta Rivers have one of the best remaining salmon runs in the state, so the Dept of Fish and Game has jurisdiction over them under the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Game tried to implement a valleywide Take Permit (in which some individual Take was permitted, so long as the whole river was managed to a standard), which I always thought was too permissive anyway, but the growers refused it. Now the Dept of Fish and Game doesn’t know what to. Enforcing against every single diverter is a nightmare, but growers up there keep sucking the river dry, stranding and killing salmon.

The Siskiyou Farm Bureau is now suing DFG, under an astonishing new interpretation:

The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau filed its lawsuit on March 25, alleging that water diverters are not legally obligated to inform Fish and Game of their water diversions and that the agency has no authority to regulate these diversions.

According to the groups, the Farm Bureau’s key argument is that the word ‘divert’ in Fish and Game code refers not to water diverted for irrigation, but to the physical diversion of the natural flow to a new water course. The Farm Bureau insists that landowners taking water from the rivers to water their hay fields are not ‘diverting’ but ‘extracting’ water and are therefore exempt from the law.

This cracks me up. It is completely at odds with common parlance in water. We talk about irrigation diversions, power diversions, diversion points this and diversion head that. Diversions has always meant “where you take the water out.” The best part is that like the Siskiyou growers point out, “diversion” was always a euphemism. That water wasn’t “diverted” for a short while before it returns (warmed and salty). It is extracted to be spread over the land as the downstream river gets smaller. Extractions would always have been a purer, blunter word for it.

I can’t imagine a judge will fall for this. Why yes! All of DFG’s authority rests on the common word that everyone uses to describe taking water out of the river! If you use a synonym, salmon are no longer dying in dried up gravels! DFG has to butt out! But the case will be fun to watch. I hope it is expensive to bring.

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Opposition to Nunes’ bill.

I wanted to second a point in this editorial in the Redding Searchlight. Their representative, who is Republican and usually a resource extractor, came out against Rep. Nunes’ bill in the house even though the other people speaking out against the bill are largely environmentalists. My goodness! Such a strange alliance.

But the editorial points out that even though their representative properly loathes environmentalists and it must have pained him to oppose something they also oppose, Nunes’ bill would likely threaten north state water interests.

Herger? Until Wednesday, he’d taken no official stand. Loyalty to GOP colleagues and Herger’s philosophy that resources should be put to productive use would argue in favor, but his own district’s direct interests pulled in the other direction.

Y’all, there is no principle in water politicking. There is only protecting your own water use. Property rights, political party loyalty, fervent belief in the appropriative system of water rights, environmentalism, ag solidarity, historic alliances? Nope. Scarcity is coming. We’re in the era of protecting one’s own. Of course we are. This is water, necessary to lifestyle, production and existence. What else could people do?

The implication is that if you need to know how someone’s going to stand on a water issue, decide if it helps or hurts their existing uses of water. Don’t look at anything else. If you need them to side with you despite putting their water use at risk, buy them out with something they want even more, as we see in the proposed water bond. Don’t think principle will sway them. How could it against the reality of not having water?

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First thought on the Economic Sustainability Plan for the Delta.

I have the full First Admin Draft of the Economic Sustainability Plan for the Delta open in another tab, which is practically the same as reading it. For the moment, I’m relying on Valley Econ’s summary. , which is remarkably similar to Alex Breitler’s summary, and I think the latter could have thrown a link or two to the former and maybe to the report as a whole, seeing as we’re all water bloggers in this together and links are cheap.

The Economic Sustainability Plan does some stuff that I’m glad of, giving us an absolute sense of the size of agriculture and tourism in the Delta. It also gives us a good rough sense of the cost to the Delta of implementing the existing BDCP. Very roughly, the habitat restoration and putting in a Peripheral Canal would eat up about half of the existing agriculture in the Delta. Livelihoods, life-styles, ripple and value-added economy, everything that would imply. That would suck for them, no question.

I want to stress is that if implementing the Delta Plan and some version of the BDCP is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do even if it incurs those costs. The State regularly comes up against real costs in the real world and the process stops dead. Real costs instantly disqualify an option, and we stew at status quo for another few years until we try again, fruitlessly searching the solution space for the mythical solution with no costs to anyone. We now know that there will be concentrated hurt in the Delta. That sucks. The question is whether implementing the restoration and conveyance measures in a legit BDCP (not the current one) averts even more costs to the state as a whole. Doing nothing doesn’t only mean we get to keep the current good parts. Doing nothing carries the risk of interrupting water service to Los Angeles, which is a great big horrific deal even if it gets managed well. Every option has to be compared to that risk, not to a world where nothing bad happens to anyone.

Honest and concrete reports like this ESP (presuming it is roughly accurate) give us two good things. It means we make choices in the full and explicit knowledge of the costs to the losers. That is way more honorable than making the same choices but pretending it is somehow win-win, or not acknowledging the costs. The other thing it means is that if we choose to implement (a much revised and better) BDCP, we can include ways to compensate and transition the in-Delta people who are injured by it. But even the full knowledge that this is a real bad option for some people in the state doesn’t mean that the DSC has to stop cold. It means we need a similar report for what happens to the whole state if we don’t “fix the Delta,” habitat restoration, Peripheral Canal and all.

ADDED: Alex commented to say:

For the (public) record, the summary I posted is basically right from the report — I didn’t take it from Jeff’s blog.

And I did link to the report itself in a previous post.

I plead not guilty, Your Honor.

My apologies.

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ACWA’s alternate Delta Plan: twothree last things.

I took two three more impressions from ACWA’s alternate Delta Plan.

  • It is not a plan to engage the physical world, since that might mean some local agencies be constrained from doing whatever they want.  Instead, it is a plan to do harmless intra-state coordination and write a bunch of reports.  At the very best, it does not much of anything for several more years, which the signatories evidently prefer to anything that smacks of regulation.  If ACWA does manage to get this included as an alternate plan in the EIR and it is somehow selected as the chosen alternative, it will be a textbook perfect example of how California dithers for decades while levees, canals and fish populations crumble.
  • Boy howdy would ACWA and those signatories like the state to pass out money.  Money, money, money, flowing one way from the state to regions and locals.  Better, faster grants.  Money.
  • As befits a bunch of water users, their section on accelerating surface storage and conveyance was concrete and detailed.  I read somewhere that the DSC’s 4th Draft still doesn’t say anything about a Peripheral Canal.  If you want help with that part, ACWA and its buddies could write you some real nice text for getting those built.
  • An almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

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ACWA’s alternate Delta Plan: state coordination.

Reading ACWA’s alternate Delta Plan was like a groovy trip to an alternate universe where the right and proper solution to all problems is not the Iron Fist of Centralized Power, but is instead The State Should Coordinate With Itself.  I know!!  Trippy.  The near, mid and long term actions in every section were mostly recommendations for what the state could do with itself.  Honestly, I blame ourselves, in two ways.

  1. By many accounts, the state has been embarrassingly disjointed and terrible to deal with. The different aspects of managing water are widely parted out and there is no shortage of stories of the state contradicting itself.  Sorry, y’all.  Truly, there are substantial efforts to straighten that out and institute a new culture of getting our act together at the state first before we go public.  That’s been going on for a few years, but evidently hasn’t made much of an impression yet.  Our bad.  This is why I like the sort of governance proposals made by the Little Hoover Commission and PPIC, to merge state water agencies.  The resulting agency would be big and need to pay conscious attention to coordination, but it’d be better.
  2. My department at least is willing to openly acknowledge this, which is why a lot of bigger collaborative policy discussions have started there.  Everyone, including the State, can agree that the State needs to do a better job.  Great!  Agreement!  But in so many of our policy processes, the discussion ends when disagreement starts.  So we never talk about the next things, things more controversial than “the state needs to do a better job.”

All that’s openly known, and ACWA is largely right about the state needing to do all the coordination it recommends.  But making that the centerpiece of the Delta Plan is a terrible waste.  In the first place, the state should be doing that no matter what.  Fourthly, what a fucking waste of the DSC.  The Legislature creates a new body with some real authority and it should spend its time nagging agencies?  Seventeenth, isn’t the revived California Water Commission supposed to be doing a fair share of this?  Twelfth, the point of the Delta Plan is not the state diddling itself, but to provide a reliable water supply for the state and to protect, restore and enhance the Delta ecosystem.  Those goals are going to have to be met out there, on the ground, with the people of the state who aren’t bureaucrats.

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ACWA’s alternate Delta Plan: some specifics.

I was intrigued to see the continuation of a few themes I’ve detected before.  We’ve seen these in different sets of political talking points in the past couple years.

  • I’ve picked up hints of a new rift developing; not the traditional ag/urban/enviro, but an emerging big water user v. little water user.  Item 7, pg 23 is about ending illegal water diversions in the Delta.  Those might be illegal diversions, they might be poorly documented historic diversions; they are certainly individual diverters, outside the structure of a water district.  ACWA is gunning for them, perhaps rightfully.  I can’t speak to the legality or size of in-Delta diversions.  I only note that ag solidarity is crumbling.
  • On pg 30, ACWA wants to restrict ocean fishing of salmon.  Screw salmon fishers!  I understand the reasoning, but it is an assertive declaration that the state should value one use of our water resources over another type of use (growing over fishing).
  • On pg 35, ACWA brings up ammonia repeatedly.  This is code for the State Water Contractors’ strategy of blaming fish decline on the Sacramento Regional wastewater treatment plant rather than lack of flow.  I happen to think that Sacramento should upgrade their plant and that the fish decline is largely due to diverted flows.  I don’t mind this recommendation, but point out that it comes from a specific political strategy.

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In roughly half a dozen places, ACWA’s Alternate Delta Plan directs the Delta Stewardship Commission come up with a plan for something (pgs. 7, 10, 21, 24, 28, 41, 44, 49).  DUDE!  That’s what they’re doing (sorta).  Why would ACWA and all those signatories like partitioned-out plans any better?  Oh yeah.  Because all of those fights are pushed to the future where the plans can individually weakened.  Even if that cynical reason isn’t right, the fact that ACWA’s default is “the DSC should make a plan for that sometime later” means that ACWA doesn’t have a plan of its own.  This is not a document with a solid detailed vision. It is some good points, some re-warmed talking points and some stalling.

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In several places, ACWA’s Alternate Delta Plan is oddly focused on getting DWR to write reports (pgs 19: UWMPs, 20:levees (isn’t this what the DRMS reports were supposed to be?), 21: Bulletin 118, 21: more groundwater, 22: surface storage, 41: flood stuff).  Oh, and Fish and Game and SWRCB too.  One problem with this is that the point of the DSC is not to generate reports.  It is to meet co-equal goals.  Near and mid term actions shouldn’t be more studies and reports.  It is time for physical changes in the real world.

The second problem is that this is just weird.  Why would the DSC be an intermediary for demanding reports?  If you want reports (I agree that many of those would be fascinating and helpful), surely the Brown administration or the Legislature should be directing the agencies, not another agency.  Moreover, no one needs to exert political pressure to get those reports.  DWR would love to write those!  So would DFG and the SWRCB.  Departments don’t need direction from the Delta Stewardship Council.  They need staff and a state that can pass a damn budget.  I loved furloughs so I’m not complaining personally, but if you want reports out of a department, it doesn’t help to cut staff time by 15% for a couple years.  Finally, since ACWA is begging for a bunch of reports, I can’t help but point out that these reports and studies are the sort of thing that serve all the water users of the state and the departments that write them are appropriately supported by water user/public goods fees.

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Getting more specific and trivial:

On page 13, ACWA’s Alternate Delta Plan shows more of their allergy to centralized control.

Athough the Act includes direction to pursue a Coastal Zone Management Plan type agreement with the federal government… a much more effective, timely and flexible  approach would be for the Council to … develop Memoranda of Agreement with the key federal agencies… .

Those two things are not the same.  A Coastal Zone Management Plan could include zoning that local agencies and individuals would have to abide by.  It can restrict some uses of the coastal zone.  It influences everyone in the area.  MOU’s are only binding on the agencies that sign them.  It would guide the federal agencies that sign on and the DSC, but not the rest of everyone in the managed zone.  This is consistent with ACWA’s “don’t boss me” philosophy, but if a Coastal Zone Management Plan is called for, an MOU with the feds is not a substitute.

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I ended my last detailed review of a Delta plan with a rant about bald assertions.  There’s some of that in ACWA’s Alternate Plan as well, noticeable to readers who don’t share initial assumptions.  I object to unsupported statements that lack of reliability has had devastating effects on the state’s economy (pg 17, facts not in evidence), and that “California’s water supply is … sufficient to serve its economic needs today and into the future” (pg 17 as well.  Why then did the SWRCB’s report on the flows required to restore fisheries in the Delta send water users into such a tizzy?  If there is sufficient water to meet that environmental need and all the others, why were all y’all talking about how it was a single fish-focused report that would ruin the state if it ever got implemented?)  There were a couple other trivial ones, but I’ve been nitpicky enough for one night.

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I can’t imagine you want more, but I marked up a paper copy.  Should anyone want an even more detailed critique, send me a Word version and you’ll get back a commented-up document.

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